Healthy food for all




It must be good: it’s an Australian Government Initiative!


Great expectations


I’ve been away for a few weeks on an important study tour, comparing the drainage systems of Newcastle with those of Cumbria. Unfortunately, my companion Jambo couldn’t make it to the UK. As I walked over the fells and sandy headlands of my old home I kept thinking how much he’d be enjoying himself. Instead, we hooked up with some visiting Kiwis, John and Val. We presented the opportunity as a house-sitting arrangement with the added extra of caring for a dog, when in truth it was caring for a dog with the added extra of having a house.

I got back on Saturday, and that afternoon the two of us returned to the drain.


The big rains of December had scoured the bed, and the follow-up rains meant that there was barely a polystyrene cup or fag end to be seen.


I was thinking, as I rounded the bend towards the railway bridge, how little had changed. There was a new roll-up next to the WORLD PEACE one. WORLD PEACE next to GODLESS seemed somehow … something. Not ironic; in fact, quite the opposite. The state things are in at the moment we’re more likely to see world peace in a Godless world.


A black-shouldered kite swooped and heckled a grey goshawk, something I’d never seen before. I’d always considered these little kites to be quite delicate creatures but it really gave it to the goshawk.


Here was something different though. As we arrived at the weir by the TAFE we saw a group of people with a dog and an electric remote-controlled boat. Jambo was fascinated and in he went. There was a time when he’d have swum over to find out was going on. If it weren’t for his incessant curiosity I’d never have got to know Old Mate and might never have written A Year Down the Drain. But this time he was content to stand and watch. Is he getting old? He did turn six on Boxing Day but that’s hardly old for a terrier.

Maybe things are changing around me more than I’d realised. What will 2016 bring? What will I think about the year when I re-read this post, in January 2017?

Which is perhaps a rather maudlin way of wishing you all a happy new year. I think!

Bringing hope to the masses


What, ladies and gentlemen, is this?


Is it: (a) an hilarious toy; (b) a potential death trap for a sea turtle;  (c) a piece of soft, fabric-based marine pollution; or (d) all of the above? Yes. Whatever. It’s part of that thing, an “environmental problem”

The problem with the “environmental problem” is that (unlike the water bomb) it’s so bloody big. And not only is it absolutely humungous, there’s the horrible and distressing knowledge that much of it could be solved in an instant if only THE IDIOTS would listen to us. It’s enough to make you swoon into a funk.

So after you’ve shouted at the internet or the telly because some amalgam of global corporations have once again stomped all over the community’s wishes for <consumer deposit legislation / better urban planning / insert whatever appropriate cause> then it’s useful to gather yourself up and head towards the nearest group of likeminded folk.

This weekend I went to Tighes Hill Public School to learn how to identify litter. No, seriously. Because this is a serious business. The Ocean and Community Care Initiative (OCCI) hosted the morning, supported by the HCRCMA, and introduced about 15 of us to the concept of litter logging. Here we all are, ready to go by the Carrington mangroves.


Litter logging is a system that’s been developed by Tangaroa Blue to quantify the crap, which in our world of bean counters and accountability is a necessary way of countering the arguments that global packaging corporations use to sidestep responsibility for the state of our oceans and waterways. So they gave us bags and gloves and “slates” – rewritable boards with all the different types of litter listed on them. Then, every time we picked up a piece of litter, we logged it on the slate. Every cigarette butt, foam bead, torn piece of plastic wrapping, syringe, water bomb …

Holy Mother of God!!!!

Here’s the editor the OCCI newsletter, about to go insane after logging his 13,915th Minty wrapper before chucking it in the dirt bag.


After 50 minutes we’d picked up, logged and bagged about 50+ kilos of stuff. On recent beach walks these heroes gathered and logged over 500 kilos of rubbish over a 6 km stretch. All the data then goes off to Tangaroa Blue and is entered into their online database. And then we send it off to The Man. In your face, neocapitalist pigs!


It’s one of those tasks that seems just too brain-sappingly large to contemplate, but I know that it has a purpose. And a good one at that. So I’m getting me a kit for the Styx and I’m going to start logging the crap that comes bobbing down the beck. Now, was that water bomb a piece of soft, fabric-based marine pollution, an hilarious toy or a foam death trap?

News flash


This Saturday, the Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority is having a day at Tighes Hill Public School to train people in identifying marine debris. I’ve seen a flyer, but can’t find it on line, but here’s the words:

Residents of the lower Throsby Creek catchment regularly see litter building up among the mangroves along the creek, particularly at Smedmore Cove on the Carrington side of the Hannell St bridge. While the mangroves trap the litter here temporarily, the  tides dislodge it and carry it out to sea, where it endangers the lives of sea birds, turtles and other marine  life.
The Lake Macquarie-Newcastle arm of Ocean & Coastal Care Initiatives (OCCI) have been invited to train interested residents in collecting and surveying litter that has gathered in the Throsby Creek catchment and assist them in adding their findings to a national database as  part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative.
By doing this we’ll not only be improving the amenity of  natural areas in our neighbourhood, and potentially  saving the lives of marine animals, we’ll also be contributing to a national picture of marine debris on our  coasts and building a case for action from manufacturers and retailers of the products regularly found in our  waterways.

The training is this Saturday, 22 June 2013, from 9.00 am – 1.30 pm. Venue is Tighes Hill Public School; morning tea and lunch provided.

If you’re interested, contact Ingrid on 0405 761 593 or email <>.

I’ll be there. Might see you too!

Yo ho ho!


Merry Christmas to all you creek connoisseurs, drain devotees and waterway wanderers from me, Jambo and the ever-returning Yuletide bauble!


Oh, and the boys and girls at Gonninan’s put up a tree for you too.


Yo ho ho! See you all in 2013!

The next big flush


A couple of years ago I edited a book written by an anthropologist who worked with communities along the Murray and Darling rivers. This was at the height of the drought, about a year before La Nina came along nearly washed Brisbane away, and there was a common thread that ran through all the feedback: the river needs a big flush.

These big flush events can be mixed blessings. Of course it’s good for ephemeral marshes to be inundated but there’s also the spread of feral and pest species, the effects of black water on oxygen levels, the moving of filth into all kinds of unexpected places. But I was reminded of everyone’s desire for a “big flush” myself the other day as I passed under the Chatham Road bridge. It’s getting jammed up there with litter and filth and, even though I know it’s only pushing the problem somewhere else, I really wished for a big rain to take it all away.

Among the trash was this beautiful feather. Is it a goshawk? Or maybe a koel. I’m not sure.

It certainly doesn’t belong to this young magpie, discovered at the foot of one of the figs in Richardson Park.

But in the midst of death is life, as it were. The gasworks is teeming with flies at the moment; it reminds me of being out bush in central Australia near a cattle station. (That’s my benchmark for fly-i-ness.) But my walks around there have been given a fun boost by my new best friend, H-FOOT. I don’t know who s/he is, but since I received my cryptic postcard I’ve noticed his/her markings all around the place.

Am I being stalked? I do hope so!

The cylinders in the ELGAS place are starting to gather, a bit like the wildebeests do before taking off on their mass migration across the Serengeti. The herd makes decisions about the elderly, the infirm, the weak and the rusty; they are “The Condemned”.

The rest group themselves into large packs. Actually, I’m not sure that the wildebeest analogy really works. They look more like something off a Pertwee-period Dr Who.

There’s also been a bit more graffiti activity in recent weeks. Is it seasonal? Is it linked to the mustering of the gas bottles?

The LDI boys have been out but, to be frank, I’m not impressed with their development. A couple of things they’ve done have been quite interesting but they seem to be stuck in big roller-coaster mode at the moment. The most touching development (and I don’t think it’s just the LDI crew) is the inclusion of gooey dedications to sweethearts: [heart] Alysa; georgia + bella. Aww.

I was interested to see a bit of the good old scratching-your-name-with-a-rock routine. Most of it was too rude to reproduce on such a genteel blog as this one, but I think that any encouragement to play urban tennis should be encouraged and applauded. (Is it like urban golf, or is it something rude that I don’t understand?)

The family of ducklings are still at nine, which is remarkable – especially given Jambo’s daily efforts to cull their numbers. I came across this unhatched duck egg. It must have been quite close to hatching; a little shake and I could feel the embryo rattling around inside. I was about to crack it open to see how developed the little ducky had been but something made me stop; I don’t know, something that made me feel that I should gently put the egg back on the floor and leave it.

It’s still there. At least, until the next big flush.

Treat time


The concrete for the bankings of the creek was mixed on site, back in the 1920s. It must have been quite smooth, in the olden days, but now it’s aged and weathered and there are places where you can see beach pebbles and shells, like splinters that have worked their way to the surface of the skin.

I thought that this was a shell at first, a perfectly preserved cockle shell, but when I touched it it was soft. It looked like one of those fancy Japanese mushrooms but it was a petal, though not a petal from any plant that I recognised.

We’re in that part of the season where we have a few hot days then a few cool days, each change marked by bluster and the roar of wind in the casuarinas and the rattle of gum nuts on the roof. The other sound I associate with this time of year is the tattoo of drink bottles on the creek bed. The tide picks them up and they bob around the litter boom by the TAFE, then the tide ebbs and they’re stranded till the wind catches them and off they clatter, eventually forming crescent-shaped middens until the next high tide.

Leaves and branches do the same thing. The creek’s punctuated by chevrons of leaf litter, swales made up of sticks and leaves against which all kinds of detritus bangs up and knots itself.

Shopping bags, birthday cards, thongs, syringes, L-plates, Care Bears …

I found another fish trap this morning. This one looks as though it had been put together as a foreigner at work, the frame being made of copper pipe. Or perhaps copper is used to avoid the corrosive effects of salt water. Does anyone know?

I also found a fiver. Yay! I love finding money in the creek. It has a special carnival kind of feel and I always make a point of spending it on frivolous things like Mars bars, takeaway curries, foam hats, whistles, chocolate-flavoured custard or stink bombs.

I held this fiver to my ear. It was a bit wet and was a bit green on one side (the fiver, not my ear) and it whispered one word: “Cider”.

Mmm. Treat time!

Where to begin?


Such a varied weekend, so much stuff happening. It is, as young folk might say, “going off” down the creek. (Young people might not actually say that, if they ever did, but I heard a Young Person say it once and so it’s now locked in my head as Young Person speak.)

It’s been interesting on the litter front. Outside the gasworks I discovered what I immediately took to be the belt buckle of Diana of the Island of Thermiscyra (aka Wonder Woman), but when I Googled images of Wonder Woman I didn’t see any evidence of a cardboard belt buckle with a W crayoned onto it.

Further investigation revealed that, during one of Marvel’s many reinventions of Wonder Woman (this time in the 1960s):

Wonder Woman surrendered her powers in order to remain in Man’s World rather than accompany her fellow Amazons to another dimension. Becoming a mod boutique owner, the powerless Diana Prince acquired a Chinese mentor named I Ching. Under I Ching’s guidance, Diana learned martial arts and weapons skills and engaged in adventures that encompassed a variety of genres, from espionage to mythology.

A mod boutique owner would not make belts out of cardboard. No, this cannot be Wonder Woman’s belt buckle. So who’s is it???

Anyway: swans. I saw my first ever cygnet down the creek the other week. According so my Ash Island sources there have been lots of swans breeding this year; indeed, a family of six made it up the creek to Chinchen Street. Jambo, bored with chasing ducklings, went belting after them.

I hate to think what would have happened to him if he’d actually managed to catch up with them. His doggy paddle was no match for their lazy gliding, and when the pen and the cob reared up and hissed he made a quick retreat to the banking, from whence he barked with impotent terrier fury.

The cygnets, not yet fledged, were perfectly camouflaged against the filth and junk by the litter boom.

Unfortunately the swan family had gone by Saturday afternoon. That was the day when, at 4 pm precisely, the Twitchathon kicked off. The Twitchathon groups birders into teams of four, many of whom charge around the countryside confirming sightings and doing birdy things. There’s a great show about the Twitchathon, featuring members of the Hunter Bird Observers Club. The HBOC has a great record in NSW, with last year’s winners being the Hunter’s very own Menacing Monarchs.

I bumped into one team at the TAFE. The City Chicks were dead giveaways: heads flung back and binocular-ed eyes boring into the treetops, water-resistant birding book in one hand and checklist in the other. We had a great chat (no birding pun intended) about birding, and our favourite apps, and the creek. I officially award each of these lovely women a special Hamilton North Blog Wonder Woman Belt of Awesomeness.

I went to talk to another reading group about The Book this week. It’s always interesting to have people tell you what they think of what you’ve written. I’m thick-skinned with broad shoulders (not literally) and don’t mind a serve, but everyone was very generous. And they gave me a bottle of wine! How good is that! Thank you!

I also got a great little postcard from H-FOOT. I don’t know who you are or what you do, but H-FOOT I loved your card and your message. It’s things like that that make me happy.

And, to cap off a happy-making weekend of general goodness, I came across my first Christmas bauble of the season. This is definitely early, and looked as though it may well have been banging around the creek since last Yuletide.

Seeing it reminded me that, a year ago, I was busily trying to finish a book about Styx Creek, wondering whether anyone would ever  read it. And I was also getting ready to turn 50.

Life: it just keeps on going.

They’re back!


First, a huge triple-axle trailer appeared in Richardson Park. Then some big strong lads with mallets.

By afternoon the big top was up. Hooray! Circus time!

Lucky they weren’t trying to put their tent up last week – with that wind they’d have been kite surfing across Nobbys. Both my kids have been off school with hacking coughs and thick colds. But now things have calmed down a little, the sun has just that tiny bit of bite to it and there’s a sense that perhaps we’ve turned a corner. Maybe … just maybe … spring is in the air. Overnight, a carpet of these pretty flowers turned up in the gasworks. Purply-white ones …

And creamy-purple ones.

The birds are so busy. The black ducks got a head start and already have ducklings out in the pool by the TAFE. There’s a pair of chestnut teal not far behind, and lots of sexy-talk from the lapwings, ibis (not blessed with the bird world’s most beautiful call, poor things), herons and egrets.

But next to the willie-wagtails, with the males’ fiercesome eyebrows all angled and elevated for the mating season, the most common waterside birds on this stretch of the creek are the magpie larks. They’ve been courting for a while, and this one was busy nest-building. Hard to see but he’s got a fluffy little white breast feather and he’s daubing it in the mud by the beck.

I suspect that this is where the breast feather came from. When I walked downstream this cockatoo carcass wasn’t there; twenty minutes later, feathers and bones were all that was left. The return of the raptors is a sign that there’s plenty of action happening at the base of the food pyramid. I hope the peregrines come back.

By the way, that’s old mate left-of-frame, packing up camp for the night.

The wind last week blew all the litter upstream so for a few days it was barely possible to walk down to the railway bridge without stumbling over a hundred Gatorade bottles or rattling cans of Mother. I notice this morning though that the creek’s looking spruce and chipper so Dave and his crew must have been around. All that was left was this Disney balloon.

And a beermat. But I don’t think that that constitutes litter, as such, more like biodegradable advertising.

This morning was still and overcast. The air warmed slowly, from a freshness with the slightest chill to a beautiful afternoon. Perfect circus weather.



In the gasworks the other day I noticed that the singing ringing tree has sprung back to life and once again is all a-blossom.

It gave me the idea of writing something about spring springing because, that same day, I saw my first clutch of ducklings of the season, eight of them paddling frantically behind mother black duck near the railway bridge, and then a pair of red-rumped parrots canoodling on a fence in Emerald Street. There was a sense of the sap rising, and not just in the plant and animal kingdom. The last three or four Saturday mornings a latex bloom of used condoms has appeared on the tarmac in the nightsoil lane from the night before. Someone in Hamilton North is having an affair!

But I didn’t get a photo of the ducklings, and the one I did get of the parrots I can’t find, and … well, who wants to see photos of used condoms? So here’s something else made of latex.

All this got me to thinking about the influence that the photos I take have on the writing I write. Sometimes I’ll see something and it’ll trigger a writing idea and so I photograph the thing to remind me of the writing idea. But quite often I take random snaps that take my fancy and, when I look at them later, they coalesce into a writing idea. The pictures drive the story.

The story that’s been going around my head lately (other than the spring has sprung story) is about litter. Familiar trope, I know, but I’ve been asked to do a presentation at Hamilton North Public School, along with the WaterWatch people and some others. A teacher and some concerned parents are promoting the concept of a “binless school” and I’m doing a bit on “where your stuff goes”.

Stuff like this, a little raggedy doll bullfighter, complete with little red cloth thing.

Or these lovely balls. (Whatever happened to Bratz?)

And these lovely, lovely bottles. So many of them! Soooo pretty!

And this … erm … boogie board.

Which eventually made it down to the litter boom by the TAFE.

It was here, on Friday morning, that I got talking to Dave. I’ve seen Dave around a lot as he’s one of the team of subcontractors who maintain the edges of the creek. They’re out with their brushcutters every few weeks pinning back the lantana, and when they’re not doing that they’re scooping up the bottles, balls, boogie boards, little raggedy doll bullfighters. And syringes, lots of syringes. That’s Dave on the right, with Old Mate 2 on the left.

Old Mate 2 got to wear the waders and risk life and limb in the deep pool. I got the sense that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his role.

That morning, Dave and his team had already pulled a skip-load of rubbish from the creek on the other (Mayfield) side of the TAFE and the Cottage Creek litter boom down by Civic Station. Our crap keeps them exceedingly busy.

Which reminded me of a quote that Kevin M emailed to me once, Barry Commoner’s 4 Laws of Ecology:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
  2. Everything must go somewhere.
  3. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  4. Mother Nature knows best.

I think I’ll be using that at Hamilton North Public  School.

Jambo bailed up this ringtail possum in our garden the other day and, bearing Commoner’s second law in mind, I bagged him up (the possum, not Jambo) and introduced him to the delights of the gasworks. After a slightly bewildered start he took off like a rocket.

One could say, if one were looking for a line to tie up a blog post, that he did in fact “spring” into life. But that’d just be lazy, wouldn’t it.